After years of an impasse between the House and Senate on expanding casinos in Florida, comes a sudden and unseemly rush to get the job done.
The Legislature needs to slow its roll of the dice. Legislation pushed through in a hurry, without much, if any, public notice or input, is never a good thing.
Casinos — and the expansion of gambling — have always been prickly issues in Florida. Each side, for and against, is entrenched, heels dug in.
But on Wednesday, in a surprise, tentative legislative committee resolution, the Florida House backed off its long-time stance of no more casinos in Florida to allow one in Miami-Dade, plus other gambling concessions. In the Senate, which has always been more willing to expand gambling, the House move was a welcome opening of the door.
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House and Senate leaders appear to be closing in on a deal to radically revamp Florida's gambling industry and strike an agreement with the Seminole Tribe in what could be a considerable expansion of gambling throughout the state — and Miami-Dade.
The measure rightly has been met with resistance from gambling opponents. This rush toward a decision in the session’s final days to allow, among other things, a new casino in Miami-Dade has that hush-hush, backroom feel — almost always unwise, and usually at taxpayers’ expense.
Count the Editorial Board among those calling for putting the brakes on this troubling quickie deal. The Board has long opposed turning Miami-Dade into a Las Vegas-style destination — and we continue to do so. Gambling, indeed, can transform communities — often for the worse. Miami-Dade is a progressive community of great accomplishment, but one, too, that already is a magnet for too many dangerous and illicit activities. Casinos won’t help.
Here’s the deal: The House has proposed the expansion of gambling in South Florida by allowing a new casino to open in Miami-Dade — as long as it is five miles away from an existing parimutuel and chosen by competitive bid. The casino can have 1,500 slot machines and a card room.
There are other requirements. Unfortunately, voter approval doesn’t seem to be part of the equation.
Two possible sites have been identified: Genting, a Malaysian company, has said it wants to build a full casino and resort on the former bayfront site of the Miami Herald building, and the iconic Fontainebleau Miami Beach is another likely competitor for the slots license.
The House would also permit the Seminole Tribe to add craps and roulette at all seven of its casinos and allow greyhound tracks and Calder Race Course — now operating its horse races as Gulfstream Park West — to end live racing, with the approval of voters.
Among the opponents of the deal is Armando Codina, one of Miami’s most prominent developers, who told Herald/Times reporter Mary Ellen Klas that he was surprised by the sudden legislative sprint. Codina, chairman of Codina Partners, LLC, a real estate investment and development firm based in Coral Gables, has long been a critic of expanded gambling in the county.
“I’m well-informed, but this surprised me how it was snuck in without any public debate,” said Codina.
He added that while the new gambling revenue would flow to the state and county, it will cost Miami-Dade dearly, leaving the community with the kind of infrastructure and social problems that it is already hard-pressed to handle. We agree.
The matter will be up of discussion again on Thursday in Tallahassee.
There need to be enough lawmakers who come to their senses and put a stop to this rush to the casino table.